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FEDERAL 12061; MARCH 1952



The artist was from New Orleans, as if there was any doubt to that when listening to his music… and the session this came from was recorded there as well.

The record label was from Cincinnati and the overseer of that label, Ralph Bass, bounced from coast to coast… born in New York, moved to California where he got started in the record biz, then back to the east to work for Savoy Records before winding up with free reign at Federal Records.

Nowhere in that itinerary for any of them is Kansas City, Missouri, yet this was the first of two records for the company in 1952 that landed smack dab in the geographical center of the United States.

It might be a coincidence, but it’s a strange one.


There’s Someone There That I’ve Seen Before
This of course is the less well known of the two records, the other of which will mark the arrival of Little Willie Littlefield to Federal after his years of stardom at Modern Records in Los Angeles.

But while we’ll get to that record in due time, its story and that of its creators Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, not to mention the long tail of the song itself over the years, means there’s not going to be a lot of space left in that review to delve into its potential association to THIS record, especially since it’s mostly unfounded speculation.

Maybe Jerry Leiber wasn’t thinking of Professor Longhair’s K.C. Blues when he started coming up with lyrics about being on the prowl for a woman on the streets of Kansas City in what turned out to be one of the most enduring songs of the songwriter’s storied career – though there are just enough vague similarities to make the question at least worth asking – I don’t think there’s any doubt that this record was on Bass’s mind when he came up with the last minute title change to the Littlefield single from the writers choice of “Kansas City”, to that of K.C. Lovin’.

What’s interesting however is that while Leiber & Stoller admitted they hadn’t actually been to the city, we know that ‘Fess had been there in late 1950 on tour with Fats Domino, Dave Bartholomew and Tommy Ridgely… in fact they got stranded there during a snowstorm after not getting paid by the club owner and while this song doesn’t reference any of that drama directly, it does perhaps tell us what other extracurricular activities ‘Fess had been up to during his stay there.


Down On 18 And Vine
What strikes you first when this record begins is just how unusual it sounds when the name on the label is Professor Longhair… err… make that “Roy Byrd”.

Though ‘Fess was more than capable of delivering downhearted laments, he usually did so with more musical flair than this shows. In fact, what’s so atypical about it for him is how the arrangement sounds so typical for so many other artists of the day with its halting piano and contemplative bluesy guitar licks courtesy of Papoose Nelson. It’s all taken at a crawling pace which ‘Fess does his best to upend as the song goes on and his vocals start.

That tension however isn’t for the best as the song requires that slower more deliberate pace to work while Longhair requires the freedom to stretch out vocally in order to feel most comfortable. Behind him the music bends and bows under his pressure, yet never breaks, while he tries to rein himself in to match their discipline only to find himself sputtering out words in momentary rapid fire deliveries so he doesn’t burst from the pressure of keeping it all bottled up inside.

Because of this strain K.C. Blues never finds a comfort zone and thanks to ‘Fess’s dominant vocal identity it’s he who runs roughshod over the record, even if it’s only about half of what he wishes he could do.

All of which is a shame because the premise is rather good, reminiscing about the girl he left behind. Don’t go looking for her however, because you can’t make heads nor tails of his directions and I’m guessing he’s recalling them from memory rather than looking at a map, which would explain why they seem to change from one line to the next and why he mumbles the latter to cover his loss of a compass.

But even had he tightened this up the story doesn’t get fleshed out enough to make it really connect. Jerry Leiber’s song of a similar vein also stuck mostly to the broader theme that ‘Fess came up with, but his was much more focused and had tight indelible lines that were easily sung.

Again they’re NOT the same song by a long shot, just shared a theme and location, but while you might expect ‘Fess’s lyrics to fall short compared to one of the best wordsmith’s rock had ever seen, where you’re surprised he doesn’t at least compete is on the musical side, for while he’s nowhere near as sophisticated as Mike Stoller, he often makes up for it with sheer whimsy.

Not here though, as the pace is plodding and Longhair is merely window dressing for the most part. The best playing comes from Nelson’s high strung guitar parts suggesting the underlying tension in ‘Fess’s state of mind, but as he’s lacking a catchy hook and the solo – while well played – is wandering about like… well, like an out of towner in a snowstorm frankly… this is more a song you’ll listen to waiting for something to happen and when it doesn’t, you’ll simply head back home to warmer environs and call it a day.


When You Get Something In Your Mind You’re Gonna Keep On Trying
It’s odd in a way that once upon a time Kansas City of all places, a location that is rather indistinct in the current landscape, was one of the true musical capitals of America.

It was Charlie Parker’s hometown, not to mention Jay McShann, and of course Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson both got their start there during prohibition. From the time Bennie Moten started in the 1920’s Kansas City was a hot bed of jazz as everyone from Count Basie to Hot Lips Page and Ben Webster became established there and helped to put the city on the map.

Yet it wound up being a rock song that gives it some lasting musical legacy and not even the FIRST rock song to explicitly use it as a setting.

Now of course it probably wouldn’t be very musically accurate for someone so identifiable as a New Orleans rocker like Professor Longhair to be the one responsible for that, but while K.C. Blues did little to help its reputation directly, it’s always remotely possible that it had some surreptitious influence on the record that immortalized the city.

All because of a snowstorm that left a bunch of musicians from the steamy bayou country trapped in Kansas City for a makeshift Thanksgiving dinner of steak, eggs and beans while one of them found some companionship to help wile away the hours.

But as for that girl he’s singing about here, the details of that rendezvous from long ago are truly lost to time.


(Visit the Artist page of Professor Longhair for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)